How to Deal with Post-Surgery Back Pain

If you experience back pain after surgery, you’re not alone. This is a common complaint after many different types of surgeries. It will be important to know when to let your doctor know if the pain cannot be controlled. They will also tell you what to watch for when you leave the hospital. With pain medications on board, you may not remember all of the signs. This article will give you helpful information on normal and abnormal back pain, things you can do to help, and when to contact your doctor.

When It’s Normal and When It’s Not

When you have surgery, many different things are going on with your body while you’re fast asleep. You don’t feel them during the surgery, but you may feel them when you wake up no matter what type of surgery you have. It is normal to have back pain when you wake up from anesthesia, especially if you had back or abdominal surgery.

Back pain may be due to the actual incision of your skin, nerves, and muscle tissue around or near the surgical area. Back pain is usually the worst on the day of surgery, and should taper off in the coming days. This is a normal response to healing.

Back pain that is not normal after surgery happens in response to complications, including:

  • Surgical Infection
  • Wound Opening
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Bleeding at the Surgical Site
  • Bowel Obstruction (Abdominal Surgery)
  • Pneumonia or Reduced Lung Function (Upper Back Pain)
  • Blood Clots

In the hospital, your nurse will check you for signs of complications. Any unusual back pain after surgery should be reported to your nurse. Before you leave the hospital, you will be taught the signs of complications to watch for, and when to contact your doctor.

What Can You Do to Relieve the Pain?

When you head home from the hospital, you will be given clear instructions on your recovery and things to watch out for. You will also most likely receive a prescription for pain medications. There are also some measures that will help you manage the pain in between doses of medication. Make sure you check with your doctor before using any home remedies, herbal preparations, or other medications to prevent interactions.

Here are some things you can try to help with your pain management:

Ask Questions in the Hospital

Make sure you ask questions before you leave. It can be hard to reach doctor’s after hours, and you will want to know what to do if something comes up. Ask things like:

  • How often can I take pain medication?
  • What do I do if it isn’t working?
  • What are the side-effects of my pain medication?
  • How long does back pain after surgery last?
  • Who do I call after hours?

Work Out a Pain Plan

Work with your doctor to come up with a pain management plan. Make sure the pain medications you are given are working before you go home. Ask your doctor or nurses what to do if your pain cannot be controlled properly at home. Include measures in your plan to help you manage your pain in between doses of pain medication.

Communicate How You Are Feeling

During your hospital stay, don’t keep things in and try to “tough it out.” Tell your nurses and the doctor if you are having pain and how bad it really is. This way, they can find the right pain medications for you to use at home. Let them know how bad your pain is on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being mild pain, and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt.

Keep on Top of Pain

After you go home, make sure you take your pain medication according to the schedule written in your pain plan. Don’t skip doses the first few days at home, or wait until you are in pain to take your medication. If the pain gets bad enough, the medication won’t work right to bring things under control. Take your next dose even if you’re not feeling pain yet. Most often, you can start weaning off pain medications after the third or fourth day at home.

Warm Compresses

In between pain medication doses, you can try warm compresses around the area. Avoid using a heating pad to prevent burns. If you use a wet warm compress, try to not place it directly over the incision. If the doctor gives the okay, you can also stand in a warm shower. Just avoid the bathtub until your incision has fully healed.

Gentle Stretches

Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you can try some gentle stretches. Lay flat on your back and pull your knees up towards your chest. Gently move your bent knee side-to-side to stretch your back.


Sometimes the quickest recovery happens when people try a little walking soon after surgery. Unless ordered by your doctor, do not lie in bed all day. This can cause stiffness. Try to rest a little, then walk a little. Pace yourself, but move around some.

When to See a Doctor

Your doctor needs to know if there are any issues with your recovery. It is also important to seek immediate medical attention for signs of serious complications. Call your doctor if:

  • You develop a fever over 100℉
  • Your pain is uncontrolled with your medications
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding or leakage from incision site
  • Redness and heat near incision
  • Trouble eating or drinking
  • Your back pain is in the flank area near your kidneys
  • You have dark colored urine

If you have any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe bleeding
  • Severe fatigue
  • Confusion
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